He has a drive for perfection, plenty of natural talent, a supportive family, a good group of friends, a fistful of cake recipes, and a dream. Meet Kyle Brown, a man with a plan.
When Brown was 12, growing up in California's “Inland Empire” (that's the San Bernardino region, east of Los Angeles) he knew he wanted to work in the food world one day, and that he'd need training in business and cooking to do so.
Flash forward to the present. Now 21 years old, Brown just graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a degree in business administration. This fall, he'll be attending the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA to take his culinary skills to the next level. In July, Brown picked up a prestigious award: NACUFS' 2008 National Student Employee of the Year, for the fine job he has done as a student manager for UCR Dining Services.
Brown says the award was a surprise to him. It would seem that with his talent, ambition, good common sense and friendly disposition, many more happy surprises are in store.
Earliest food memory?
When I was about 4 years old, I would wake up really early and ask my mom to make breakfast for me. She taught me to make toast and cook bacon in the microwave for myself. I know it might seem like I was too young, but I turned out fine!
I love Southeast Asian food. I never really ate that until I came to college. And every now and then I'll crave one of those comfort food things that only my mom can make, like enchiladas or tamales. And breakfast food. I love waffles, toast and cereal.
What do you expect to get out of your upcoming stint at the CIA?
I think I have a lot of baking talent already, but because I'm mostly self-taught, I want to learn the proper techniques.
What inspires you?
There is a restaurant called Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego. The first time I went there, there was a line around the block. After waiting about 45 minutes, I ordered the Moroccan Chocolate Cake with chocolate ganache and pistachios. That's when I knew for sure what I wanted to do. The next day, I tried to duplicate the recipe at home and it came out pretty well.
So you can see something or taste something and then make it yourself?
That's actually one of the things my boss prizes in me. I'm good at recreating flavors and items I've seen.
What would you list as a major accomplishment as student manager?
I created an Access database to keep track of all the student culinary workers and supervisors (about 180 people from six facilities). I used it as a means to log and keep track of who works where, their position, and what training they had completed. Dining services had generally used spreadsheets to capture all of that information, but I noticed that people would sometimes fall through the cracks. My current system seems to work pretty well for us.
Tell me about winning NACUFS' 2008 National Student Employee of the year.
It was a complete surprise to me. My supervisor, Susan Coffman, had nominated me, and then she schemed with my roommate to intercept the mail, so I didn't find out until this end-of-the-year brunch. I'm definitely going to put the money award towards my education.
How did your side business get started?
I started selling cakes for extra income. A lot of my cakes are versions of other desserts made into cakes. My supervisor loves butter pecan, so I created my Chocolate Butter Pecan cake for her. Through word of mouth, it's really kind of spread. I take pictures of all of my cakes, and my grandma forwards the photos on email to all of her church friends and people she used to work with, and now more people want cake. But it's still pretty informal.
What's your idea of a perfect day?
It's one where I'd wake up to a light rain and then lie in bed and listen to music for a couple of hours. Then the skies would clear up around noon to a brisk 70 degrees. My best friends Thao and Khang and I would go drive down to Little Saigon in Orange County to eat and shop all day. Then we'd play board games like Monopoly and Payday until midnight, and then I'd go run about six miles so I wouldn't regret all that eating!
Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego, Royal Orchid Thai Cuisine in Riverside
Favorite TV shows
Food Network, America's Best Dance Crew
Ironman and the Batman movies
Cilantro: yes or no?